Radical Transparency: Privacy after a Decade of Facebook

I spoke yesterday at ANZCA2013 in Fremantle, Australia about some of my latest work coming out of my PhD research on the philosophy Facebook, radical transparency and privacy in the context of a decade of Facebook (as of next year). A full paper is in the works, but here’s where I’m at so far.


The amount and scope of personal information shared on Facebook has markedly increased over the past decade (Stutzman, Gross, & Acquisti, 2013), a privacy shift that has been reflected in internet usage more broadly. In the words of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO: “[In 2004] when Facebook was just getting started, most people didn’t want to put information about themselves on the Internet. So, we got people through this really big hurdle of getting people to want to put up their full name, a real picture, mobile phone number…and connections to real people… (Zimmer, 2008). As Zuckerberg’s statement suggests, these changes were not accidental. Facebook has intentionally and consistently pushed users to to increase their personal disclosures, or, as those at Facebook describe it, to become more “open and connected” (Raynes-Goldie, 2012). As their revenue model is based on datamining  and targeted advertising, Facebook has a clear financial motivation to encourage its users to share more personal information on the site. However, profit is not the company’s only motivation. Underpinning Facebook’s push towards less privacy is a deep ideological belief that if if we all lived more open, transparent and less private lives, society would be more compassionate, equal and just (Smith, 2007). It is a belief that Zuckerberg and his “inner circle” at Facebook describe as “radical transparency” (Kirkpatrick, 2010, p. 207).

Based on an extensive archival and media analysis of primary and secondary materials gathered over the last decade (including developer changelogs, court documents, official blog posts, interviews, and first hand employee accounts) and this paper will examine how Facebook has attempted to impose radical transparency upon its users, and indeed the internet more broadly. Specifically, this paper will outline how the company, through a variety of mechanisms (technical, discursive, social and policy-based), has strategically transformed Facebook’s culture from a locked down, student-focused community to a much less private, more open social network where nearly a billion people actively share their personal information and daily activities — changes which, due to the global pervasiveness of Facebook, have had a ripple effect on privacy culture more broadly. Overall, this paper will document exactly how and why a decade of Facebook has significantly changed privacy online.


Works Cited
Kirkpatrick, D. (2010). The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Raynes-Goldie, K. (2012). Privacy in the Age of Facebook: discourse, architecture, consequences. PhD. Curtin University, Perth, Australia.

Smith, J. (2007). Facebook Friends Lists let you manage your ‘friends’ more effectively. Retrieved September 21, 2008 from http://www.insidefacebook.com/2007/12/19/facebook-friend-lists-let-you-manage-your-friends-more-effectively/

Stutzman, F., Gross, R., & Acquisti, A. (2013). Silent Listeners: The Evolution of Privacy and Disclosure on Facebook. Journal of Privacy and Confidentiality, 4(2). Retrieved from http://repository.cmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1098&context=jpc

Zimmer, M. (2008). Facebook’s Zuckerberg on Increasing the Streams of Personal Information Online. Retrieved from http://michaelzimmer.org/2008/11/08/facebooks-zuckerberg-on-increasing-the-streams-of-personal-information-online/

Radical Transparency: Privacy after a Decade of Facebook

4 Responses

  1. Thanks Kate,

    Really interesting stuff, I’m sorry I missed your talk. I tend to have a laissez faire approach to privacy on Facebook along with a general ‘I have nothing to hide’ mentality, but as you rightly point out there are threats to users with this attitude the biggest being in my mind those from troubled or ‘ex’ relationships. My sister is in the unfortunate position of having been stalked and harrassed by an ex–partner for almost 10 years and consequently feels unable to share personal information with anyone at all on Facebook. I wonder about Zuckerberg’s utopian ideas on radical transparency making the world a better place in this context.

    Nicola Wright July 4, 2013 at 5:26 pm #
  2. would you write me a blog for my website please
    Im at ANZCA
    ask Renae and she will introduce us

    aligator media July 4, 2013 at 7:25 pm #
  3. Thanks! Yeah, the trouble with radical transparency when applied to personal information is that it works for some (ie straight, rich white guys like Mark Zuckerberg) but can be really dangerous for others. You end up with things like this: http://gizmodo.com/5470696/fck-you-google

    There’s also a really interesting book that I just finished reading called “The Boy Kings” written by Kate Losse, who was employee #51 at Facebook. She touches on many of these issues, and has wonderful insight as a non-technical, female, philosopher and outsider on the inside.

    kate raynes-goldie July 5, 2013 at 2:34 pm #
  1. This week in apps – App Store turns 5 - July 12, 2013

    […] As is always the case, privacy issues are rampant in the mobile communication world, especially given the recent hysteria surrounding the whistleblowing activities of former CIA IT consultant Edward Snowden. In the mobile world, we have seen Microsoft begin to pull apps from their platform that are deemed vulnerable. There is also some thinking emerging amongst practitioners, who are beginning to question, are social apps just a little too creepy in how they share your personal information? We are again reminded that free apps are the gateway to your personal privacy of information, where some are suggestions free apps are essentially a modern equivalent of spyware. However, as Kate Raynes-Goldie suggests, it is radical transparency. […]

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